By Connor W. Davis
The first video I ever saw on the Internet was the trailer for Level 1 Production’s 2005 film, “Shanghai Six.” I couldn’t stop watching it on my clunky Apple iBook in sixth grade science class. Just a few months later, a website called YouTube was introduced to the World Wide Web. And although I was young and foolish at that time, I knew the coolest sport in the world was about to get a whole lot cooler.
The Internet is now helping every party involved with skiing, especially through the increasing utilization of social media and virtual contests. And it’s safe to say that the sport has found its rightful place in this increasingly digital world. For skiers, being successful is no longer limited to winning the X-Games or landing a part in a full-length film. Take Owen Leeper, a pro skier from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for example. He doesn’t compete or film with big companies, yet he has over 9,000 followers on Instagram and thousands of views on his Vimeo page, collectively leading to sponsorships with Icelantic, Bolle, BCA, Swany, Intuition, Dynafit, Lange, Look, GoPro, Discrete, and Minus33 Merino Wool.
“My sponsors have athletes that might place in the Freeride World Tour but they never post anything on social media. I post something several times a week and create a few videos a month,” he says. “That’s what gives these brands the most exposure at the end of the day.”
Scotty Vermerris, Leeper’s team manager for Icelantic, says that while X-Gamers and other “superstar” athletes are important to sponsor, people like Leeper who work hard to provide brands with content are becoming increasingly valuable.
“They’re more likely to stay on our team, get paid a little bit more, or just get paid at all,” he says. “If someone’s going to join our team, we’re a lot more likely to keep them on if they’ve shown that’s something they're good at. That’s what takes people further in this industry.”
But contests and those who participate in them are not obsolete. Events like the X-Games, Dew Tour, and Olympics will, of course, continue to be a part of a pro skier’s world. And alongside them, video contests are helping to further expose skiing while rewarding athletes with appealing cash prizes.
Noah Wallace from Spokane, Washington, earned $2,500 from his victory in the first annual The North Face’s Park and Pipe Open Series virtual competition last winter. That’s the exact same amount up for grabs in the physical version of the contest, which has been taking place since 2009. Not to mention, The North Face gave out an additional $40,000 in prizes through other areas of the contest, including best footage, viewers choice, best trick, best rail, best air, and even biggest personality.
Léo Taillefer from Val D'Isere, France, was the winner of GoPro’s “Line of the Winter,” another video contest that debuted last year. He brought in $20,000, and GoPro gave out another $5,000 on top of that to monthly winners.
In 2013, Dale Talkington from Weston, Vermont, won $100,000 in Teton Gravity Research’s “The Co-Lab” contest, the most money ever won in any ski or snowboard contest to date.
Companies aren’t just blindly throwing money and time at these virtual contests, either. They can track every single view and completely quantify their benefits. Davey Smidt, GoPro’s Snowsports Marketing Manager, says “Line of the Winter” saw over 800 entries from all over the world, 390 of which were uploaded to their YouTube Channel. Those 390 entries generated nearly 5 million views and counting, and Taillefer’s entry alone has just under 2 million.
“People from Russia, Georgia, India, Japan, you name it. We got submissions from people skiing all over the world. It was really cool to expose all different aspects of skiing in a contest format,” says Smidt.
Jessica Kunzer is the Marketing and Communications Director for Mountain Sports International, which runs The North Face’s Park and Pipe Open Series. (They also run the Freeskiing World Tour, Masters of Snowboarding, and Junior Freeride Tour.) She says the virtual version of the contest was a great way for The North Face to tap into freeskiers at an important time.
“Coming out of the first post-Olympic year since freeskiing debuted at the games, The North Face was really interested in finding a way that more athletes anywhere could compete with very low barriers to entry but still at a high level of skill for very appealing and meaningful prizes and opportunities for the athletes,” Kunzer says. "It’s a really great way to engage a larger population of athletes in this sport.”
Lindsay Sine, The North Face’s Snowsports Public Relations manager, says these virtual contests are even going beyond athletes by exposing the places they ski, too. “By scaling this across the country, we can shine a light on less-known resorts. It’s really contributing to the mountains, and keeping this sport alive and healthy,” Sine says.
This might all seem a little bit too obvious. Yeah, ski videos are awesome and they’re all over the web. Duh. But think about this: Next time you’re watching one, it’s not just benefitting you. These videos, whether they’re 10-second Instagram clips or $100,000-worthy edits, are vastly progressing our sport. So keep watching them, keep supporting the movement, and don’t forget to go outside every once in a while.